The Importance of Your Recording Location
There are many reasons for choosing a location to record. Sometimes it has to do with space. Other times it has to do with gear.
One element often overlooked is the meaning of the particular location. Having a strong connection to the place you’re recording in can really change the air of a record.
Mobile studios are nothing new. The Rolling Stones had a mobile unit that they used for years. Led Zeppelin also used this mobile studio to record at Headley Grange.
I don’t have anything against commercial studios. I like them a lot. But, I feel that a project should marry the space. A traditional studio doesn’t fit every project.
Some projects require an intimacy that a commercial studio can’t provide.
The Family Tree
I’m currently working on Abby Ahmad’s new record. This is a classic example of a project that doesn’t fit into a commercial studio.
As we were pondering where to record the record, two great opportunities presented themselves:
- Abby’s parents were looking to travel. They asked us to dog sit at their home. This is Abby’s childhood residence. The only place she had ever lived until leaving for college.
- In the same town, Abby’s grandparents house was up for sale. We realized we had one last chance to go in and create a memory.
In one trip we were able to record at two locations that had strong emotional ties.
You Live The Record
There is something special about setting up camp for a record — where you eat, sleep and play in the same space. It starts feeling like camp … and camp is fun. (Please, don’t do anything weird with a flute.)
Somehow being in Abby’s childhood home, which is also the place we got married, connected us so much more to the project. There was a deep history.
Our live room was in her childhood bedroom. As you can imagine, with each take she relived vivid memories.
This brings up hard stuff too. But, making a record is a complete emotional experience. You want emotion in your performances.
When I listen back to the takes, I hear emotion. I hear the desperation to hang onto our younger lives. Our fight against mortality. Our desire to hold onto love. The wish to right the wrongs.
There is no way this could have been captured in any other space. Racks of Pultecs, a Neve or a Studer couldn’t elevate the performances in the way that the location did.
It could be said that performances are the clay. As engineers and producer, we mold sound. Even though you may own the nicest studio in town, it might not be a bad idea to have a mobile rig for when an environmental change is required to elevate a project.
I know what you’re thinking: “my Neve console can elevate any project.”
But take your head out of the gear for a moment and consider the psychology of making a record. Consider the artist you may be working with. You’re making an audio document that will last multiple lifetimes. It’s not just a moment in passing.
One thing we must take into consideration for mobile recording is noise.
In this day and age, one of the greatest advantages in a commercial studio is it’s oh so quiet! You don’t realize how much noise there is in a room until you put up a microphone. All of a sudden you hear birds, garbage trucks, kids and construction workers. This can make recording quiet sources a bit difficult.
I’m ok with a little bit of noise. It keeps it real. For the most part I’m not making records that have that bright polished sound. I like earthy tones and performances. If you’re into those big sparkle productions, mobile recording may not be for you. Unless you can rent a mansion in the middle of nowhere for a week.
On the Family Tree sessions we were lucky to have almost no noise. The noise floor was that of a commercial studio. We can thank Abby’s parents for choosing their location 40 years ago. (Good move Mac and Lynn).
On another recent session for a different artist, the noise was loud enough to postpone the session. Think of it as planning an outdoor event with the chance of rain.
A commercial studio isn’t a sure thing either. Yes, you may never have to worry about noise. But, the headspace might not be right. Do you think people will remember noise more than a touching performance? It’s just my opinion, but I can live with the noise.
I often get asked if a commercial studio or home studio is better. I don’t think in terms of better. But, in terms of what matches a certain project best. I still record in commercial studios and love them. They just don’t really compare to one another.
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